November 10, 2023
Publishing visual content online carries inherent legal risks, especially if you don’t know your rights and responsibilities as an online publisher in relation to copyrighted material. Unauthorised use of such material can result in potential compensation claims by rights holders, irrespective of content removal.
As this is an ever growing problem for rights holders, Copyright Protection Agencies now exist, contacting website owners over unlicensed image usage, with direct authorisation from rights holders. Understanding their role is essential for the modern publisher.
The basic function of Copyright Protection Agencies is to protect the intellectual property of the image rights holders that they represent. This typically entails carefully identifying instances of copyright infringement and engaging with website owners through various means, including email, phone calls, and, if required, legal channels.
While some website owners may perceive these communications as harassment, it is crucial to clarify there is a legal framework that underpins such interactions. If the enforcement agency is duly verified, provides you with appropriate legal documentation, and maintains a physical address, it warrants serious attention. Ignore them at your own risk.
Harassment, in a legal context, pertains to a pattern of unwelcome and persistently intrusive behaviour directed towards an individual, causing them substantial distress, fear, or discomfort. Being emailed about a copyright infringement is not considered harassment in and of itself as it is a legitimate means for copyright holders to assert their rights and protect their intellectual property. Remember, publishing someone else's visual material without their consent also causes the rights holder emotional distress and devalues their work, they’re not in the wrong for appointing an agency to contact you.
Copyright laws exist across the globe for a reason. They offer legal protection to content creators, photographers and image agencies in the event that their material is published without their consent and enables them full control over how their visual content is used. It is more than likely that if you are being contacted via the appointed agent of the rights holder, you didn’t pay for the visual content, you don’t have a valid license for it, or took it straight from Google, you should investigate the matter and respond before it’s too late.
The frequency of contact from a Copyright Protection Agency is typically in line with the severity and recurrence of the infringement. Multiple communications may be necessary to ensure compliance with copyright law. Typically, a Copyright Protection Agency agency will address any questions you may have, and will notify you about the escalation of the claim.
Again, legal frameworks govern these interactions. Remember that it is up to you, as a responsible website owner, to prove you have a right to publish someone else’s visual content if questioned.
A mantra to live by is: If you ignore the claim, you will be contacted again!
It's also worth noting that emails are gaining acceptance as a standard and valid mode of communication in legal affairs. Responsible web publishers should consider evaluating them in this context.
So, in conclusion, is a Copyright Protection Agency contacting you about an image you published on your website without a license harassment? - The short answer is, No.
Outreach is rooted in lawful actions, not harassment and it is your publication of a rights holder's work that prompts a necessary discussion about fair compensation for their creative efforts.
Copyright Agent - www.copyrightagent.com